Art At Work, Portland, Maine
Art At Work (AAW) was initiated by theater artist Marty Pottenger in 2007, who was embedded in city government in Portland, ME for nine years. Projects begin by working with key stakeholders to identify critical municipal challenges, develop an evaluation plan with specific goals and outcomes, and from there Pottenger or an artist she invites determine the art project that centers around engagement. AAW has put creativity to work delivering measurable outcomes to improve police department morale, deepen cross-cultural understanding among municipal workers, and raise public awareness and appreciation for the role of government. For more on AAW, see this Profile.
AAW leverages the creative intelligence and talents of the city’s own workforce as well as the communities it serves. Through art-making, AAW advances public understanding of what government workers contribute to society, fosters reflection that improves municipal operations, and strengthens awareness of municipal workers’ significance to the community.
Animating Democracy (a program of Americans for the Arts) and its Arts & Civic Engagement Impact Initiative’s Evaluation Field Lab, which was in turn funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
This Evaluation in Action profile draws from AAW’s Evaluation Plan, Kate Preston Keeny and Pam Korza’s chapter in Arts and Community Change: Exploring Cultural Development Policies, Practices, and Dilemmas, and other Animating Democracy sources.
Evaluation of the early phase of Art At Work focused on making the case of the value of art as a strategy to improve municipal government. If Art At Work was to continue beyond the City’s initial three-year commitment and with a greater investment of public dollars, Pottenger would need to design programs that address department goals, and measure what matters to City leadership. Civic outcomes would have to be supported with evidence convincing to key stakeholders—municipal leadership, department heads, staff, and the public. The primary audience for the evaluation was municipal leaders.
The City did not have an internal evaluation mechanism for this program. Pottenger was able to worke with researcher and evaluator Christine Dwyer of RMC Research as part of the Evaluation Field Lab. By design, Dwyer’s role was to coach and mentor Pottenger, defining and co-designing ways that Pottenger and an intern could implement evaluation activities themselves.
“Having an in-depth evaluation design process and such a respected evaluator allowed partnering municipal government agencies and employees to see the project as a more serious, credible and useful activity.” Marty Pottenger
The evaluation process included these approaches: